Tokyo’s own Superman RFC, longtime friends of Rowers Rugby, were our hosts for the “Five Nations Dream Match Tournament,” this past Saturday, an amateur event running in parallel to the World Cup. Joining the Rowers on the very level turf of the sports complex in suburban Tokyo were; New Zealand’s Grammar Tec, the USA’s Missoula Maggots, and Bridgend Athletic from Wales, whose full participation was impeded by Typhoon Hagibis.

Each club fielded a competitive team in a 10-a-side squad, an over-35 15s side for a series of friendlies, and collaborated to lend players to fill out the spots left open by the Welsh team. The Rowers 15s’ first match was against a Superman RFC Old Boys team whose average age could easily qualify for any seniors discount. No contact on gold shorts rules were in effect, but that didn’t keep the contingent of experienced players from being physical at the breakdowns, often just for the sake of it. Showing no sign of being intimidated by a team of Canadians twice their size and half their age, the Superman Vets stared us down with a true Samurai spirit. A Rowers 15 full of talented (if rusty, and hungover) touring players went up three tries early, then took their foot off the gas to keep from having to look like a touring side who steamrolled a geriatric ward.

The ten-a-side was more competitive, and the Rowers played well. A newly clean-cut Matt Liszt opened up the scoring in the second minute of the first game, breaking a tackle to get sprung behind the defense, followed by a classic blindside pick from the base by halfback Duncan James, who went on a 20 yard scramble before offloading to fellow throwback player George “The Honeymooner” Richmond, running in support to finish the job.

A Rowers touring contingent deep in personnel was called on to be part of the ensemble cast stepping in for the absent Welsh team, and to fill out a thin Missoula Maggots roster. We got to experience the sides’ various styles from the opposite sides of the ball. The Kiwis from GTEC had a very technical, all-business approach. They were prone to discussion during stoppages, just to keep everyone on the same page, always addressing contingencies and finding ways to move the game towards their strengths. A direct contrast to the hard-charging party rugby being played by the Maggots, who didn’t bother themselves too much with strategies or assignments, preferring to lean on their experience, play on the benefit of their chemistry.

The Superman RFC competitive 10s side made it clear early on that they were taking the on-field portion of this tournament very seriously. They made up for a visible size disadvantage with technical excellence in all aspects of contact; tackling low and engaging at the breakdown intelligently and aggressively. The home crowd showed a keen understanding of the game and gave their top side an electric charge from the sidelines, cheering big tackles and turnovers and well-earned penalties like they were in a World Cup final. The Rowing Club were able to wake up and mount a defense that kept Superman off the board in the second half, but the damage had been done by then. The speedy Japanese attack had thread one through every hole the Rowers had given them in the first half. The home club celebrated a big victory on their home pitch in front of a delighted crowd that included a crew from the local news and a regional politician whose title I didn’t catch, but sort of scanned like the Mayor. I’d never before been that happy for anyone who beat the Rowers.

All photos by Rowers Japan Tour 2019 Official Photographer Kelly Egilsson .
Plenty More in the 5 Nations Dream Tournament photo gallery.

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